By Noel Randewich
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Apple Inc's iPad mini uses a display from South Korea's Samsung Electronics Co Ltd, one of Apple's major suppliers and also its fiercest rival in the global mobile-device market that the two companies dominate.
Analysts say the Silicon Valley-based iPhone maker is trying to wean itself off its reliance on Samsung, as both giants are embroiled in a bitter international legal battle over mobile patents, for everything from microchips to displays.
In the first dismantling of the iPad mini, which will be sold in 34 countries beginning Friday, teardown and gadget-repair specialist company, iFixit, discovered a Samsung display driver chip, which indicated that Apple had picked the Korean firm's screen technology.
Like most producers of mobile hardware, the U.S. company typically employs several suppliers for the same components in its gadgets. Apple has been known to use screens made by LG Display, for instance.
"Though the markings on the back of the LCD (display) don't turn up much information, the Samsung display driver IC (chip) reveals that Apple, once again, went with Samsung in its display manufacturing," iFixit said, detailing the teardown on its website.
Supplying parts for Apple's iPhones and iPads - some of the industry's most popular and advanced gadgets - is considered a coup for chipmakers and other manufacturers.
The iPad mini also employs SK Hynix Inc flash memory, a Broadcom touch controller, and a number of microchips from Fairchild Semiconductor International Inc, according to iFixit, which acquired one early.
The 7.9-inch iPad mini marks the Apple's first foray into the smaller-tablet segment. The company hopes to beat back incursions into its home territory - carved out with the original iPad's launch in 2010 - with 7-inch slates that are popular with consumers, even as it safeguards its lead in a larger tablet space that even deep-pocketed rivals like Samsung have found tough to penetrate.
It has won mostly positive reviews focused on its ability to wrap most of the functions of its full-sized iPad sibling into a smaller package, but critics pointed out the higher price tag of the iPad mini and an inferior display relative to those of rival products like Amazon's Kindle Fire HD and Google's Nexus 7.
START YOUR ENGINES
A smaller tablet is the first device to be added to Apple's compact portfolio under CEO Tim Cook, who took over from predecessor Steve Jobs just before his death a year ago. Analysts said it may have been Google and Amazon that helped influence the decision.
Online sales have run for a week, but Apple has not disclosed sales numbers so far. Friday's global sales rollout may offer a hint of demand for the gadget, which analysts expect to be strong.
Still, it will be playing catch up. Priced at $329 for a Wi-Fi only model, the iPad mini is more expensive than many analysts had expected. Amazon's Kindle Fire and Google's Nexus 7, both released at $199, have grabbed a chunk of the lower end of the tablet market.
Meanwhile, it is battling Samsung in the smartphone arena, which still yields the majority of Apple's revenue and profit. The Korean giant last year became the world's largest maker of smartphones as other rivals lost steam.
Apple and Samsung are engaged in patent disputes across several countries, and Apple is believed to be seeking ways to rely less on Samsung. But the Asian tech powerhouse remains a key supplier for Apple, manufacturing its application processors and providing other components.
Samsung has stopped supplying displays for Apple's iPhone, and plays a reduced role in the full-sized iPad, according to DisplaySearch. Apple is also buying fewer memory chips from Samsung for the iPhone 5, relying more on Hynix and Elpida Memory.
Many analysts believe Apple will also gradually phase out Samsung as the main producer of the mobile micro-processor and shift business to rival supplier TSMC.
(Editing by Matthew Lewis, Tim Dobbyn and Bernadette Baum)